A few days ago, someone on a web forum–I forget which one–said we should feel really privileged to be able to live through the collapse of a major civilization, because so few people ever will. I guess that’s something to consider as we watch the West fall apart around us.
Some years ago, researchers showed that they could take mouse cells, turn them into eggs, then create baby mice from those eggs.
Now they’ve finally produced human eggs from human blood cells.
I forgot to post this when I first saw it, but it’s a very interesting video on what might be the root cause of ageing, and some info on progress at the sharp end of longevity research.
If you have a ship that can keep you alive for the time required to travel between stars, why leave it? We’re not going to colonize the galaxy, we’re going to use it for resources to make cool stuff.
And use the light-years of empty space to get away from the asshats.
When I was in Italy some years ago, everything Google was showing up in Dutch. Not that it really mattered as I couldn’t read either language, but I doubt many of the Italians could read Dutch either.
Frankly, the only ‘targeted advertising’ site that’s ever shown me an ad I was interested in is Facebook. And, even then, I went and bought it from a friend instead of the poeple who were advertising, so the advertiser paid to send business to someone else.
So their targeting is garbage, but it’s less garbage than the competition. And cost the advertiser money for no benefit.
Everyone else sends me ads for things I already own (‘you made a post saying you bought a car. Therefore we’re going to send you car ads, because obviously you want to buy another one!’). And even Facebook keep sending me ads for their VR headsets when they know for sure that I already own two.
No-one knows who has this data and what they’re doing with it. Even something as simple as knowing what you set your ‘smart’ thermostat to could tell crooks you’re away on vacation and it’s a good time to burgle your house.
And there’s a staggering amount that can be done with location data alone. Happen to be close to where a crime was committed? Don’t be surprised if the cops turn up on your doorstep, even though you weren’t involved.
I suspect we’ve just about reached peak ‘Cloud’ and are going to start heading back towards more secure localized systems.
There are two kinds of cliffhangers.
#1 The good kind, where the book is a complete story, but gives you a reason to want to read the next one. ‘Good dog, Lassie, you got Billy out of the well.’ ‘Dad, Dad! Billy’s just fallen off a cliff…’
#2 The bad kind, where…
There’s a kerfuffle now and again about MGTOW: Men Going Their Own Way. That an increasing number of men have decided that marriage is too expensive, the risk of divorce far too high, and have given up to live their own way on their own instead.
But I think that’s just a subset of a wider movement: Westerners Going Their Own Way. Be they male, female, single, married, young or old.
I’ve seen a lot of discussion in the last few years about Americans quitting their city life, taking their money and moving somewhere remote and rural where they can live cheaply. And it seems to be spreading.
Which makes sense. Why work to pay taxes to fund a government that hates you? Why not pull out and watch it go bust?
Particularly as cities continue to decay and impose higher and higher taxes and crazier and crazier rules on those who live there. Someone has to pay for all those public-sector pension promises, and the people paying for those pensions can’t be allowed to live the way they want to live without constant nannying by those whose pensions they’re paying for.
This trend is only going to accelerate over the next couple of decades as cities become less and less important, and we can make more and more things at home.
Whenever I look at the news, it increasingly seems to me that we’re in a race to reach the point where we no longer need an industrial society before the wackos destroy that society. And it’s not clear who’s going to win.
SF is full of stories of global, or interplanetary, or even interstellar governments. Government just like today, except vastly larger.
But it’s not going to happen in real life.
Government follows production. When production is centralized, as it was in the industrial era, government can collect much of that centralized wealth in taxes, and use it to expand into a big, centralized government. And it can justify those acts by claiming that big, centralized production needs a big, centralized government to make it efficient.
And the politicians have a point. If you want your country to be wealthy in a world of big, centralized production, you don’t want to be constantly dealing with localized regulations that get in the way.
So you’re about as likely to see a small, libertarian government in an industrial society as you are an ice cube in volcanic lava. All the incentives are pushing against that, and it would take a herculean opposition to prevent it.
At which point, your neighbours with their big-government, big-business economy would probably invade and take you over.
But that’s rapidly coming to an end. 3D printing, cheap CNC and similar technologies mean more and more of the things we use are going to be made locally, many of them at home. The kinds of technologies we have to develop to survive in space are going to make small communities self-sufficient on Earth, too.
And then, why would they want to be told what to do by governments hundreds or thousands of miles away? What would they gain from a big government when pretty much everything they encounter is made or grown within a few miles of where they live?
So the natural incentives in the future are for small, localized government, or no government at all. A single family building a home from an asteroid aren’t going to want anyone telling them what to do, and a small tribe doing the same aren’t going to want anyone outside the tribe telling them what to do.
Now, one obvious counterargument is that those who have access to the most resources are going to use them to build giant robot armies to enslave the rest. But that’s not going to work well in space, where the distances will make any kind of warfare rather difficult. On Earth, perhaps, but if you have a giant robot army, you don’t need to enslave anyone. You wouldn’t be invading their territory to govern them, you’d be invading it to kill them and steal their resources.
And, of course, those who have power will fight this trend tooth-and-nail. We’re already seeing this with the ever-increasing calls to censor the Internet, and the open censorship of their users by many of the big Internet businesses who only exist in their current form because of a cosy co-dependency with those in power.
Some government will ban all innovation and go full North Korea on their citizens, even as North Korea is going the other way. If a government can force people to live in an industrial society even while their neighbours are decentralizing through localized manufacturing, it could continue to exist for some time. But, as soon as that country becomes a problem, their more advanced neighbours will come in and free it from its backward government.
So, my forecast would be:
- Big government will become less and less useful and more and more an impediment to technological innovation. Instead of helping the country become wealthy, as it did in the distant past, it will help the country become poor.
- Many governments will try to ban new manufacturing technologies that lead to the decentralization of production. But they’ll eventually fail, because nations which do that will become technological backwaters.
- Even as we see a resurgence of nationalism around the world, it’s unlikely that it will become the norm before tribalism takes over. If there’s a planetary government on Mars, it will only last until the second colony is built.
- Earth will be a death-trap, as those who want its resources for the automated production of weapons will just take them, and not care whose they were before. The kind of person who would care won’t be building a giant robot army to steal your stuff.
- As we spread out across the galaxy, centralized government will become even less viable as the distances involved will make such control impossible. Maybe a government on Earth could control Alpha Centauri with an eight-year communication round-trip. But a star fifty light years away? A hundred? A thousand? How can you control a colony when communication of orders from the central government takes longer than the entire lifespan of the Roman Empire?
Of course, yes, I still do have big governments in some of my stories. Just because something seems inevitable in the real world doesn’t mean it’s the best choice for a sci-fi story. But those stories also generally include faster-than-light travel and other technologies that I don’t really believe in either.
As an SF writer, I spend a lot of time thinking about the future and how it may work. And, I have to admit, the more I think about it, the harder it is to see what’s coming.
But, lately, the left have come up with a wonderful new idea: Universal Basic Income.
Aka ‘free money for doing nothing’. So not really that new or that wonderful.
The theory goes like this. AI and automation are about to make most jobs obsolete, which means that most people won’t have an income, which means they won’t be able to buy anything, which means that business owners won’t be able to make any money, which means we must tax the businesses to give money to the unemployed so they can buy stuff from those businesses and keep them in business.
It doesn’t take very long to see why this is nonsense. Sure, many big business owners are all in favour of UBI. But that’s because they see it as a free money handout, and don’t expect to be the ones paying for it.
Let’s look at what happens when they do have to pay for it:
I have $1,000 as a business owner. I give it to the government in tax. They take their cut and hand $900 on to the unemployed. I sell them $900 of products, and make $450 of profit.
So, I had $1,000. Thanks to the wonders of UBI, I now have $450.
So why wouldn’t I have just closed down the business instead, and kept the $1,000 I had?
Economically, it makes no sense. So the left have to resort to their usual standby: violence. Pay them money, they say, or they’ll riot and murder the rich.
Of course, that doesn’t work either, because the rich will be living in their bunkers in New Zealand, and will be unaffected by the violence. The rioters will burn down their cities and then… well, die, presumably.
A hundred years ago, that prospect would have terrified the rich, because they needed those people to work in their factories to produce products to sell. But if all the factories are automated, the rich have no reason to care. In fact, they’d probably prefer to see the now economically worthless poor kill each other, so there’ll be more resources available to the rich.
That doesn’t mean it’s impossible. Automation may progress slower than expected, and the welfare state may become UBI at some point. Or the rich may decide it’s better to keep the masses occupied with bread and circuses until they’re ready to release a killer virus or robot army to wipe them out.
But I can’t see any way it’s going to be more than a short-term situation. In a world where the rich can have robots and automated factories to dig up resources and turn them into useful stuff, they’re not likely to want to waste those resources on people who give them nothing in return.
And, if it does happen, it will rapidly become a means of social control. Complain about the government? No UBI for you.
I have incorporated it to a limited extent in the new rewrite of Rebellion, but that’s precisely what it is: a way to control the chavs of England, so long as they still exist.
Trade publishing can put its books in every bookstore, and get its friends in the media to push them constantly. But that becomes less useful every year.
I doubt we’re ever going to see another Harry Potter, because the mechanisms that made it so popular no longer really exist. While the publishers have every TV talk show talking about the book, we’re watching Netflix and Youtube.
That doesn’t mean Stephen King has anything to worry about, because he has a popular backlist and and established fanbase who’ll buy most or all of his books. But creating another King will be much harder. Another Rowling, probably impossible.
Trade publishing isn’t going away any time soon, but more and more new writers start out in indie publishing and need a very good reason to consider a trade publishing deal.
I replaced my old Toshiba with an HP when the Toshiba broke, and it was only after a couple of days that I realized how much I relied on the Toshiba’s illuminated keyboard to see the keys in the rather dim lighting of our living room (I’ve no idea what idiot decided to not put any lights on the ceiling there when they built the house).
Other than that, the laptop is fine, but being unable to see the keys properly has noticeably reduced my productivity. And I wouldn’t need to see them that much, except the keyboard is positioned differently on the laptop, so my fingers automatically go to the wrong place.
Generally speaking, in order for a subscription model to make sense, someone has to be screwed. The subscriber has to get less value than they would by purchasing, the producer has to get less value than they would from sales, or the subscription service has to get less money than they would from sales.
There’s a small argument that people who subscribe to a service would watch or read things that they wouldn’t have bought, but that’s just redistributing income from high-value producers to low-value. Since I got a Netflix subscription I rarely buy movies any more, so the companies have lost all those $10-20 sales in favour of the few cents Netflix give them.
And it’s ten times worse with an uncurated service like KU, because it literally becomes a license for scammers to print money. KU is now basically the Hunger Games, where writers are thrown into a pit of money to fight to see who comes out alive.
KU eliminates the pricing mechanism that makes economics work, and gives scammers a license to print money. A bot costs $9.99 a month, and earns $0.004 every time it ‘reads’ a page. So it can trivially generate far more income than it costs.
Giving scammers the ability to print money is not something that can be fixed. KU is broken by design, as anyone could have told Amazon before they created it.
You can’t do the same by having bots buy your books, because Amazon takes a 30% cut. It’s only the subscription model that makes scamming profitable.
Of course, Amazon claim to be able to count page reads, but they really can’t, and it’s a fundamentally complex problem to solve. Unless, maybe, they restrict KU books to tamper-proof Kindles and put a face-tracking camera on the front to check you’re actually reading the words.
Hence scammers exploit that to make more $$$$$.
Amazon used to be good at showing me things I might want to buy, based on what I’d bought and what other people who’d bought what I bought had also bought.
Now they’re more concerned with showing me things that advertisers want me to buy, so they can make a few more bucks selling ads.
Yesterday I didn’t see any also boughts at all on the book pages I looked at.
And it’s not just books. When I do a search for anything now, I have to invest time and mental energy in filtering out the damn ‘sponsored’ results.
Just another reason why I buy less and less there.
Jumped. The. Shark.
I’ve noticed that the number of scammers trying to post comments to my blog has dropped at least 90% in the last year or so. They’ve presumably found that Facebook is far more useful to them than blogs.
I was just thinking the other day how much I hate that every… single… site… on the Internet now puts up a ‘hey, why not sign up to our email list’ popup when I go there. It’s incredibly annoying when I find something in a web search and go to the site to read the info they have, and can’t until I click away from that damn popup.
I understand why they do it, but it just makes me avoid the site unless I have a good reason to go there. Particularly because I use private browsing mode on my web browser and most of these sites seem to check a cookie to decide whether to put up the popup, so I get it every… single… time… I go to the damn site.
There’s one store where I’ve spent thousands of dollars in the last year which I’m starting to avoid because I get the damn popup every time I go to their website now. They’re literally looking at losing tens of thousands of dollars of business over the next few years because of this crap.
Most people have no idea how much spying is going on, and are absolutely shocked when they find out how much information about them is available, not just to companies they gave it to, but to organizations they may actively dislike.
They haven’t even realized yet that, when they talk to that handy little Alex or Siri device, everything they say is sent over the Internet. Or that, when they use an app to control their stove or door locks, that app and those devices are talking to an Amazon server.
Most people do not like being spied on. Especially when you point them to a page which shows them exactly how much information the spies have collected.
Frankly, I’m quite shocked that any company lets employees carry around cellphones with apps that are constantly listening to the microphone. Just think of what those phones could be collecting and sending to competitors.
Apparently the British Army has a recruiting problem (kids don’t want to be sent to Afghanistan to kill people who’ve never done anything to them), so the solution is to become all huggy-fluffy.
You just couldn’t make this up.